SUN Hockey Pool

Kip, kip hooray!

RANDY SPORTAK -- Calgary Sun

, Last Updated: 9:13 AM ET

Miikka Kiprusoff stopped in his tracks, paused and said with a big grin, "Nice."

The object of his affection was one of the handful of goalie sticks waiting for the Flames netminder to tape up for action. Greeting Kiprusoff on the twig were the words, "To Kip. All the best. Pat Roy #33" with a scribbled fake signature.

"From Roy. Wow," Kiprusoff said.

As for the culprit, he could only guess.

"Probably my partner," he said with a nod at Philippe Sauve's stall.

Or Rhett Warrener.

"That's a good guess, too," Kiprusoff said before grabbing a roll of tape and beginning to cover the salutation.

The practical jokes are in full force, so life must be good for the Flames.

Certainly, that's the case for Kiprusoff right now.

After a struggling start to the season -- remember the 4.95 goals-against average he posted during the opening four-game road swing? -- the netminder all but deemed a saviour nearly two years ago is back in fine form.

The numbers tell that tale.

In the first three games of the club's homestand that ends with tonight's meeting against Vancouver, Kiprusoff has surrendered only one goal. During his 11 games since the disastrous opening trip, his GAA is an incredible 1.44.

Impressive from afar and even more amazing from up close, said fellow netminder Sauve.

"When you're in that kind of zone, you see the puck as big as a grapefruit," Sauve said. "The play kinda slows down for you.

"That's how he is right now and it's always fun."

Even Kiprusoff is feeling great about his recent play but prefers to deflect praise away with the same enthusiasm he blocks pucks.

"We've been working on little things and the team has played much better," he said after forgoing on-ice work for a video session with goalie coach David Marcoux yesterday. "I've played better, too, but we've worked really well in the defensive zone.

"I've been a little better with rebounds and they've been better at taking care of the rebounds when they happen. It's been both ways."

There's tangible proof of that improved team defence. In two of Kiprusoff's last 11 outings, he has faced 30 or more shots on goal.

During this homestand, he's faced a mere 63 shots.

Make no mistake about it, there is a sense of pride in the Flames dressing room about playing such a stronger team game.

"One thing we were good at a couple of years ago was not giving up that second shot," said winger Shean Donovan. "Kipper would make the first save no matter how hard it was and, once in a while, there'd be a second shot but the d-men did a good job of making sure there wasn't a second shot.

"Now, guys are back doing that, making sure Kipper is taken care of."

Then, Kiprusoff is returning that favour which has boosted the team's confidence to the sky.

"He was playing really good before," Donovan said. "It was more us running around, especially on that first road trip, getting out of position and making tons of mistakes. There wasn't much Kipper could do.

"But Kipper's back to being who he is, a great goalie."


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